The Japanese government on Friday formally approved the details of a program that will expand child care and higher education support, including free public preschool education for all children aged between 3 and 5, beginning in October 2019.
To address the country’s falling birthrate, the government will also make day care services free for children up to age 2 from October if they come from low-income households, and provide grant-type scholarships to university students from low-income families from April 2020.
The schemes will start as the government raises the nation’s consumption tax from 8 percent to 10 percent in October 2019, with some of the generated revenue to go towards paying for the plan.
Related bills will be submitted to the ordinary Diet session next year with an aim of providing wider educational opportunities to, and reducing financial burdens on, households raising children.
“We will transform the nation’s social security system to reassure all generations from youth to the elderly. The free education program is an important first step,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a ministerial meeting.
Under the preschool subsidy program that is estimated will cost about 776 billion yen ($7 billion) per year, fees at all authorized preschools will be scrapped for children aged between 3 and 5, while a monthly subsidy cap of 25,700 yen will be set for some private kindergartens, meaning those eligible will have to make up the difference on fees that go above the cap.
For unauthorized preschools, the subsidy cap will be set at 37,000 yen per month for those aged between 3 and 5 and at 42,000 yen for children aged 2 and younger. School meals will be separately charged.
Services offered by babysitters and care facilities for sick children will be treated the same as unauthorized preschools.
To be eligible for government subsidies, unauthorized facilities need to meet criteria set by the government, such as the number of nursery or preschool teachers and the size of the institution.
As a transitional measure, unauthorized facilities that do not meet the standard will also be eligible for the subsidies for the first five years.
As for higher education, students at universities, two-year colleges, specialized training colleges and vocational schools will be able to receive grant scholarships if they come from low-income households.
Annual scholarships worth about 350,000 yen will be provided to national or public university students commuting from their families’ homes and about 800,000 yen for students living away from their families.
The amount is set at about 460,000 yen and around 910,000 yen, respectively, for students attending private schools.
Standard tuition fees at national or public schools set at around 540,000 yen will be waived while fees will be reduced by up to 700,000 yen for private schools.
The education grant will be provided in principle to tax-exempt households. In a model case of a couple having two children with one of them attending a university, the student will be eligible for the scholarship if the family’s annual income is under 2.7 million yen.
Even if the family is not exempted from residence tax, the student may receive two thirds or one third of the grant depending on the income level.